Wolfstein; or, the Mysterious Bandit. A Terrific Romance. To Which Is Added, The Bronze Statue. A Pathetic Tale.
Publisher: J. Bailey
Publication Year: possibly 1822
Book Dimensions: 17.9 cm x 10.7 cm
University of Virginia Library Catalog Entry, Sadleir-Black Collection: PZ2.W742 1800
This abridged version of Percy Shelley’s 1811 novel, St. Irvyne, tells of a man high in the Alps, entangled with a pack of bandits and then with the occult, forced to learn first-hand the cost of devaluing life.
Wolfstein is presented in a now-unbound pamphlet. It is light, being twenty-eight pages in length, 10.7cm x 17.9cm in dimension, and lacking in a back cover. The untethered, yet remaining front cover is composed of a marbled, and half-leather binding. This marbling effect was a popular design of the period, and it was achieved by filling a container with water and oil paint and dipping the cover in the swirling colors. The cover’s corners and spine are leather, but the rest is made of faded, dark green decorative marble paper, which appears to have once been a shade of deep blue, yellowed with time. No indication of the author is given on the front, nor anywhere inside the book.
Immediately upon opening the cover, the viewer will be greeted with several notes written in the handwriting of Michael Sadleir, the original curator of this collection. These reveal that there was once a “Coloured Frontispiece” and seven stories in this volume; of these, Wolfstein is the first and the only remaining. The stories are listed exactly as follows:
- Wolfstein or The Mysterious Bandit / a Terrific Romance. To which is added The Bronze Statue, a pathetic tale. J. Bailey.
- The Ruffian Boy or the Castle of Waldemar. A Venetian Tale. Based on Mrs. Opie’s stay of the same name.
by J.S. Wilkinson. J. Bailey
- Feudal Days or The Noble Outlaw
- The Monastery of St Mary or The White Maid of Avenel. A Scottish Tale (J. Bailey). By Emelia Grossett
- Glenwar, The Scottish Bandit
by an Evonian
(Dean and Munday)
- The White Pilgrim or the Castle of Olival
trans from the Le Pelerin Blanc by Sarah Scudgell Wilkinson (Dean & Munday)
- Theodore and Emma or the Italian Bandit by an Etonian.
The rips between these notes and the title page of Wolfstein indicate that the frontispiece may have been removed, perhaps along with the other six stories. The current curator of the Albert & Shirley Small Special Collections Library, David Whitesell, hypothesizes that these stories were likely removed in the early days of the collection, possibly when it was first moved to the library. Another mysterious note on the back of the front cover reads, “43 O.R.” What this pen-written memo means is unknown, but it was likely written in the early twentieth century.
Thus, Wolfstein’s forced isolation commands all our attention to it. The title page, though badly torn up, boldly introduces the title in three successive lines, as “Wolfstein; OR, THE MYSTERIOUS BANDIT. A Terrific Romance.” Farther down, the page reads, “TO WHICH IS ADDED, THE BRONZE STATUE. A Pathetic Tale.” The title page arranges the above text in slightly different font variations and vertical lines per each phrase. The page is without pictures or other notable visual features. Further into the chapbook, the titles appear at the top of almost every page as either Wolfstein; OR, THE MYSTERIOUS BANDIT. or THE BRONZE STATUE. The first story takes up pages four through nineteen, while the second story goes from page twenty to the final, twenty-eighth page.
Throughout the book, the pages are yellowed and tattered. The margins are a uniform 1.5 cm on every page, and the printing is generally clean and well done. Occasionally, letters are displaced; this is a result of the moveable type that was used to print the book. Some seemingly random letters—A, A2, A3, A6, and B—can be found on different pages near the beginning of each story. These are signature marks, a common technique of traditional bookmaking: since books were printed on large sheets of paper that had to be folded and cut, signature marks helped bookbinders to order the pages correctly.
Another interesting feature near the beginning of the book is on the backside of the cover page. A patch, roughly page-colored and a little over an inch in size, is stuck on the page; looking closely, one can see that its application tore the word “blue” from the body of the text where the first chapter starts on the following page. This patch was applied long ago to repair a rip in the title cover, conceivably when the volume was being moved to the library, but its current presence appears somewhat ironic, as the title page is now badly torn up. As such, it seems that the book may have been tattered for quite some time.
Information on Wolfstein; or The Mysterious Bandit’s textual history is sparse and sometimes contradictory, especially when it comes to the publication date. In Montague Summers’s extensive, usually detailed Gothic Bibliography, the entry on this story is a one-liner, reading, “Chapbook. n.d. [c. 1800]” (561). Indeed, the circa 1800 publication date is the definite, albeit vague, consensus amongst all sources, though some sources specify the year of 1822, noting one crucial detail: Wolfstein is not an original work. Unlike its publishing companion, The Bronze Statue, published by Anna Jane Vardill, who signed her work as “V”, Wolfstein is not marked anywhere with any indication of an author. Instead, the credit for the work is given to author Percy Bysshe Shelley, as Wolfstein is a condensed, sixteen-page version of Shelley’s 1811 novel St Irvyne; or The Rosicrucian.
Herein the problem is introduced: which came first, The Rosicrucian or The Mysterious Bandit? Frederick S. Frank writes that Wolfstein is a “plagiarized abridgment of various Räuber-roman” and that “P. B. Shelley may have obtained the name of his morose hero in Saint Irvyne … from this lurid little shocker” (“The Gothic Romance” 173). Other sources, however, seem to indicate the opposite. The frontispiece of the chapbook, as found in the New York Public Library, lists the date issued as “1822 (Questionable).” The WorldCat library catalogue, too, describes Wolfstein as “a slightly altered and much abridged version of P. B. Shelley’s 1811 novel, St. Irvyne … published shortly after J. Stockdale’s 1822 re-issue of St. Irvyne.” Finally, in discussing gothic literature’s “fetishisation and moralisation of the formulaic,” Franz J. Potter asserts, “There are multiple redactions and adaptations of what are now viewed as trade novels,” among them, “Percy Shelley’s juvenile novel … was deftly converted into Wolfstein” (The History of Gothic Publishing 54).
Shelley’s St. Irvyne, at its comparatively whopping length of about two-hundred pages, contains many plot points common to Wolfstein, while having mostly different character names. Wolfstein’s breakneck pace, then, can be justified through its impressive inclusion of many of St. Irvyne’s plot points. The abridgment is not perfect, though; Wolfstein spends almost no time on Shelley’s female characters, who, in St. Irvyne, have characterization, dialogue, and plot lines of their own. Wolfstein’s Serena, the only notable woman in the chapbook, pales in comparison to Shelley’s Olympia, who, while still being portrayed primarily as a sexual object, does more than just get captured and murdered (Finch). Wolfstein goes from barely skimming St. Irvyne’s waters to totally diving in, even directly copying the text, as in the “mouldering skeleton” and “terrible convulsions” of the final scene (Wolfstein 19, Shelley 236). The unique similarities of the plots suggest that Wolfstein was published after Shelley’s novel, possibly in 1822.
Plagiarized chapbooks like Wolfstein were not an irregularity. The printer and publisher of Wolfstein, John Bailey, published many adaptations and abridgements of popular novels as it was “a financially sound investment for printers and publishers exploiting the readers’ appetite for entertainment” (Potter Gothic Chapbooks 89). However, the author, or rather abridger, of Wolfstein is nowhere to be found, whether due to the popularity of anonymity at the time or the fact that the story was a plagiarism. Oftentimes, details like authors and dates remain absent; in total, Bailey dated only five of his thirty-eight pamphlets, these dates ranging from from 1808 to 1823 (Potter Gothic Chapbooks 89). Bailey established himself as a publisher on Chancery Lane by 1800, and his overall contribution to Gothic literature was momentous, finding “market value … in the sensationalism and horror that readers craved” (Potter Gothic Chapbooks 90). Throughout his career, Bailey published and priced a broad range of works at sixpence—very cheap—thus targeting “the general reader whose interest varied by age and need” (Potter Gothic Chapbooks 91).
John Bailey’s gothic pamphlet publications usually contained a frontispiece—which Wolfstein did have, albeit separated—and is now available through the New York Public Library Digital Collections. As described by the WorldCat library database, Wolfstein’s frontispiece was a “folding engraved hand-colored frontispiece with caption beginning, ‘Deeper grew the gloom of the cavern,’ depicting the final scene: a giant skeleton, a lightning bolt, the terrified Wolfstein.” Bailey often commissioned frontispieces from artist George Cruikshank (Potter Gothic Chapbooks 90). Overall, the Bailey family contributed at least seventy-six pamphlets to the “gothic pamphlet marketplace,” making up 19 percent of the total number of Gothic chapbooks (Potter Gothic Chapbooks 91). Their contribution was essential to the genre. Wolfstein is but a singular example of the Bailey family’s gothic legacy.
According to WorldCat, five known copies of Wolfstein exist. One of them is in the University of Virginia’s Special Collections Library; one is at the University of California, Los Angeles; one is in New Jersey, at Princeton University; one is in the New York Public Library; and one is across the seas at the University of Birmingham.
Narrative Point of View
Wolfstein is narrated in the third person, including both an objective and an omniscient point of view. Although the narrator is anonymous and physically absent from the story, they sometimes offer omniscient insight into the characters. Mainly, though, the focus is on the fast-moving plot, following the terrific story of Wolfstein as he delves into a life of crime. The narration is almost jarringly engaging, with each page or two seeming to start a new arc of the story, and sprawling, multi-clause sentences describing settings and streams of consciousness. While the narration does pause to zoom-in on specific descriptions, its mere fifteen-page length requires quick movement through the many beats of action it contains. This action ranges from murder, thievery, and poisoning to suicidal contemplation, dreams, and phantasmal appearances. The narration also centers primarily on Wolfstein, informing us always of his perspective and emotions.
As Pietro concluded, a universal shout of applause echoed through the cavern; and again the goblet passed round, when Wolfstein eagerly seized an opportunity to mingle the poison. The eyes of Barozzi, which had before regarded him with so much earnestness, were intentionally turned away; he then arose from the table, and, complaining of a sudden indisposition, retired.
Stiletto raised the goblet to his lips. “Now, my brave fellows, the hour is late, but before we retire, I here drink success and health to every one of you.” Wolfstein involuntarily shuddered as Stiletto drank the liquor to the dregs, when the cup fell from his trembling hand, and exclaiming, “I am poisoned!” he sank lifeless on the Earth. (11)
Wolfstein’s narrative style frequently deals with action, but by no means does it lack description or other, slower modes of fiction. Action verbs in sentences are always surrounded by expressive, carefully chosen adverbs and adjectives, so that every action is afforded some reason or emotion. Additionally, the dynamic characters guarantee that the reasoning and feelings surrounding each action are also dynamic, making the narration riveting and surprising throughout the tale. For the Alpine Bandits, power is obtained and maintained through stealth, strength, and wit, so intelligence is a crucial quality. Taking this into account, the selectively omniscient point of view aids in the fortune of some characters and expedites the downfall of others, including Stiletto. The main characters, Wolfstein and Barozzi, are favored by the narrator in terms of detail and perspective, and since their thought processes are presented most thoroughly, the book depicts them as the only characters who are thinking deeply. In a world where success is based on cunning, they make all other characters seem static and unthinking in comparison, and those characters’ lives are treated as unimportant and easily discarded. The narrative’s marking of Wolfstein and Barozzi as intellectually superior sets them up to search for eternal life and heightens the irony of their eventual defeat and ruin.
High in the Alps, a terrible thunderstorm “borne on the wings of the midnight whirlwind” is raging (4). Against a rock, a man named Wolfstein watches the storm. Wolfstein is tormented by sadness, and he “curse[s] his wayward destiny… [seeing no point in a life both] useless to himself and society” (4). Overcome by emotion, he rushes to jump off the cliff, but instead faints and falls to the ground. His body is quickly found by a group of traveling monks. They initially suppose him to be dead, but when he wakes up and lashes out at them, they try to comfort him. Abruptly, the group is ambushed by the Alpine Bandits, who attack and rob the monks. They threaten Wolfstein, who says that he has nothing to lose and nothing to fear. Upon hearing this, they invite him to join their group, and he agrees with little thought. The banditti take Wolfstein to the “summit of a rocky precipice,” where they enter a cavern that serves as the bandits’ base camp (5). In the cavern, they enjoy a banquet made by a woman kept there and eventually retire to bed. Before going to bed himself, Wolfstein recounts the sorrows of his life, having been “driven from his native country” by an unnamed force that presents an “insuperable barrier to ever again returning” (6). Eventually, he goes to sleep.
As he “inure[s] more and more to the idea of depriving his fellow creatures of their possessions,” Wolfstein becomes a courageous bandit (6). His new lifestyle is tested when an Italian count comes to the Alps, and he goes out to scout alone. While scouting, he discovers that a detached party of the banditti has already overtaken and killed the count, now dragging a woman’s “lifeless … light symmetrical form” out of their carriage (7). Immediately, Wolfstein becomes infatuated with her; but the bandit chief, Stiletto, seems to desire her for himself.
That night, the woman, whose name is Serena, is invited to the banquet and seated at the right side of Stiletto, much to Wolfstein’s displeasure. Filled with “indignation,” he determines to “destroy his rival” (8). He slips a white powder into Stiletto’s goblet and later proposes a toast. Just when Stiletto is about to drink, another robber, Barozzi, “dashe[s] the cup of destruction to the earth” (8). Barozzi is a reserved, cryptic man. He tells nothing about himself to anyone, and he has never “thrown off [his] mysterious mask” (9). The interference enrages Wolfstein further, and he decides to attempt the murder once more, reasoning that he is not worthy of “the celestial Serena, if [he] shrink[s] at the price… for her possession” (9). The day after, the bandits are drunk and merry again. Stiletto asks Pietro, a robber who knows many poems, to tell an old German story to pass the time. Pietro recites a poem about Sir Eldred the bold, a crusader who died in battle in Palestine. At his death, his lover wept, “raised her eyes to the banner’s red cross, / And there by her lover she died” (11). After the story was told, a goblet was passed around, and Wolfstein again slipped poison into it. At this, Barozzi “intentionally turn[s] away,” then rises from the table and retires (11). Stiletto raises the drink, toasting to the “success and health to every one of you” (11). He drinks it and immediately becomes ill, crying, ““I am poisoned!” and collapsing (11).
The devastated banditti begin to search for the culprit, but the search distresses Wolfstein, and he confesses. They are about to kill him when Barozzi intervenes, insisting that they leave him unhurt on the condition that he immediately leaves. Wolfstein does. In “half-waking dreams,” he hears Stiletto’s ghost cry out for justice (12). As he ventures out from the cabin, he spots Serena lying on the ground. Seeing her as the reason he “forfeited all earthly happiness,” he takes his sword and stabs her in the breast (12). He continues on his way, finds an inn to stay in, and Barozzi shows up. In exchange for saving him from the banditti, Barozzi demands Wolfstein’s protection and commands that Wolfstein listen to his story. Feeling indebted, Wolfstein swears to do so, and Barozzi takes his leave. In dreams, Wolfstein sees himself on the edge of a precipice, being chased by a dreadful figure. Barozzi saves him, but then the monster throws Barozzi off.
One evening, Wolfstein wanders outside late at night, “shudder[ing] at the darkness of his future destiny” (14). As he is going back inside, Barozzi grabs his arm. Jolted, Wolfstein asks if Barozzi is there to make good on his promise. Barozzi replies: “‘I am come to demand it, Wolfstein, (said he) art thou willing to perform?’” (14). Wolfstein gathers his strength and proclaims that he is ready, conducting Barozzi inside. Inside, Barozzi says it “neither boots [Wolfstein] to know nor [him] to declare” about his past, but he plans to do so anyway (15). He tells Wolfstein that every event in his life has been known and guided by his machinations, and tells him to not interrupt, regardless of how horrifying the tale might be.
At seventeen years old, Barozzi set out on a journey from his city of Salamanca. The sky that night was completely black and covered by clouds, and Barozzi “gazed on a torrent foaming at [his] feet” (15). He then planned to commit suicide. Right before jumping, he heard a bell from a neighboring convent that “struck a chord in unison with [his] soul” (16). It made him give up the plan, and he fell to the foot of a tree, crying. In sleep, he dreamed he stood on a cliff high above the clouds. Amid the mountain’s dark forms, he felt an earthquake and saw “the dashing of a stupendous cataract” (16). Suddenly, he heard sweet music, and everything became beautiful; “the moon became as bright as polished silver; pleasing images stole imperceptibly upon my senses … louder swelled the strain of seraphic harmony” (16). It calmed his violent passions. Then, the sky divided, and “reclining on the viewless air, was a form of most exact and superior symmetry” (16). Speaking “in a voice which was rapture itself,” it asked, “Wilt thou come with me—wilt thou be mine?” (16). Barozzi, upset by the proposition, firmly declined. Upon this, he heard a deafening noise, and his neck was grasped by the phantom, who turned hideous. It mocked Barozzi, saying, “‘Ah! Thou art mine beyond redemption,’” and asked him the same question again (17). Frenzied and terrified, he replied yes, and awoke. From that day forward, a “deep corroding melancholy usurp[ed] the throne of [his] soul,” and he dived into philosophical enquiries. There he found a method for eternal life “connected [with his] dream” (17). He lamented to Wolfstein that this secret may not be shared with anyone else. Barozzi tells Wolfstein to meet him at midnight in the ruined Abbey St. Pietro—there, he says, he will reveal the secret to eternal life.
In the still night, Wolfstein ventures there and descends into the vaults. He trips over a body, and in horror, finds it to be the body of Serena. On her face, there was a “laugh of anguish” still remaining, and it was accompanied by wild, knotted hair. Wolfstein “dashe[s] [her body] convulsively on the earth” and, consumed by almost-madness, runs into the vaults. Thirsting for knowledge, he waits patiently, and at the midnight bell, Barozzi appears at last. Desperation alone pushes Barozzi on. His figure thin and his cheek sunken and hollow, he greets Wolfstein, saying they must get to work. Barozzi throws his cloak to the ground, shouting, “I am blasted to endless torment!!!” (19). The cavern grows darker, and lightning flashes in it. From thin air, “the prince of terror” emerges. He howls and shouts, “‘Yes… yes, you shall have eternal life, Barozzi!” (19). Barozzi’s body “moulder[s] to a gigantic skeleton, yet two pale and ghastly flames glazed in his eyeless sockets” (19). Wolfstein convulses and dies over him.
The tale ends with a statement from the narrator: “Let the memory of these victims to hell and to malice live in the remembrance of those who can pity the wanderings of error” (19). The voice remarks that endless life should be sought from God, the only one who can truly offer eternal happiness.
Finch, Peter. “Monstrous Inheritance: The Sexual Politics of Genre in Shelley’s ‘St. Irvyne.’” Keats-Shelley Journal, vol. 48, Keats-Shelley Association of America, Inc., 1999, pp. 35–68, http://www.jstor.org/stable/30213021. Accessed 15 November 2021.
Carl H. Pforzheimer Collection of Shelley and His Circle. “Wolfstein; Or, the Mysterious Bandit…, [Frontispiece].” The New York Public Library Digital Collections, The New York Public Library, 1822, http://digitalcollections.nypl.org/items/3b47b780-0c31-0135-fa18-1917b1455179. Accessed 15 November 2021.
Frank, Frederick S. “Gothic Chapbooks, Bluebooks, and Short Stories in the Magazines (1790–1820).” Gothic Writers: A Critical and Bibliographical Guide, edited by Douglass H. Thomson et al., Westport, Conn, Greenwood Press, 2001, pp. 133–146, ebookcentral.proquest.com/lib/uva/detail.action?docID=3000461. Accessed 15 November 2021.
——. “The Gothic Romance 1762–1820.” Horror Literature: A Core Collection and Reference Guide, edited by Marshall B. Tymn., New York & London, R.R. Bowker Company, 1981. Accessed 15 November 2021.
Potter, Franz J. Gothic Chapbooks, Bluebooks and Shilling Shockers, 1797–1830, University of Wales Press, 2021. Accessed 15 November 2021.
——. The History of Gothic Publishing, 1800–1835: Exhuming the Trade. Palgrave Macmillan, 2005. EBook Collection (EBSCOhost). Accessed 15 November 2021.
Shelley, Percy Bysshe Shelley. St. Irvyne, Or, the Rosicrucian: A Romance. London, J.J. Stockdale, 1811.
Summers, Montague. A Gothic Bibliography. London, The Fortune Press, 1941.
“Vardill, Anna J, John Bailey, John Bailey, and Percy B. Shelley. Wolfstein; Or, the Mysterious Bandit: A Terrific Romance … to Which Is Added, the Bronze Statue, a Pathetic Tale. London: Printed & published by J. Bailey, 116, Chancery Lane, 1822.” Entry in WorldCat. http://uva.worldcat.org/oclc/7130368. Accessed 15 November 2021.
Wolfstein; Or, the Mysterious Bandit: A Terrific Romance … To Which Is Added, the Bronze Statue, a Pathetic Tale. J. Bailey, n.d.
Researcher: Rachel Jean Quinn